Polystyrene and House Nannies

This past week, the House of Representatives showed that nanny state-ism is a bipartisan tendency and that unscientific scaremongering trumps scientific facts.

In a disappointing bit of kowtowing to some obnoxious environmentalist caterwauling, the House Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Ed Cassidy, a former Beohner staffer, announced the end of polystyrene (Styrofoam is a trademarked type from Dow Chemical Co.) in House cafeterias.

Polystyrene foam is a lightweight packaging material accidentally discovered in the 1940s by Ray McIntire of Dow Chemical. By blowing air into heated polystyrene, he made a product that kept the heat off your hand, was lightweight, and cheaper to produce. In the 1990s, chloroflourocarbons were removed from the production process due to environmental concerns.

Thus, my chili container today was a paper/plastic hybrid that was impossible to transport to my office without playing “hot potato” and switching hands constantly. This was never a problem for the last 2 years in the House.

Staffers will now only be able to use “environmentally-friendly” plastic and bio-degradable containers. One can only assume this is in conjunction with the District of Columbia’s unscientific and incredibly disruptive law to ban foam food containers (a law that puts it on par with backward-thinking progressive fiefdoms Seattle and San Francisco). So now using carryout or takeout of any sort in the District or on Capitol Hill is needlessly made less convenient, less expensive, and less energy-conscious than it would be in a freer market.

But good luck getting a fair hearing on that. As quoted in the Roll Call story linked above, a Democrat staffer opined, “we don’t need to do partisan battle over food containers.” Such a high-minded notion from someone who has already imposed their will on others.

The Hill Blotter (a blog on Roll Call) articles detailing this fight go back to 2011, when Nancy Pelosi’s sore loser staffers pitched a fit and claimed Republicans had “chosen to demagogue the issue.” It took Pelosi’s spokesman a single beat to encourage the Architect of the Capitol to ignore Republicans and continue with Pelosi’s pet project. But let’s all shutup now that Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz have won.

The facts, however, militate against the Democrats’ initiative, so we must continue to protest. There are many over-hyped misconceptions out there about polystyrene, so let’s tackle a few.

The worst was expressed by Rep. Michael Honda (D-CA) who was concerned the containers exposed his staff to health risks. This is absolute anti-science rubbish. To have any harmful side-effect from using polystyrene, you have to heat it to incredible temperatures and be preparing foods susceptible to soaking up any trace amounts of leaked chemicals (those high in vitamin A). The easiest way to allay this fear is to avoid microwaving in polystyrene (perhaps overly cautious, but a simple one-size-fits-all solution). So on this front, polystyrene is much like aluminum foil. If Honda’s staff smarter than Barry Zuckerkorn with a ding dong, they should be alright.

Another is that polystyrene “harms the environment” (an incredibly vague accusation) because it doesn’t biodegrade. First off, to impact the environment (excuse the vague term, dear reader) in a meaningful way, shouldn’t polystyrene represent some substantial portion of our waste? Maybe 10%? Eh, ok, 5%? Fine – 1%!? Nope, instead polystyrene is less than 1%. So fears of polystyrene decimating the nation’s “environment” are incredibly overwrought.

Additionally, it is simply ignorant of how modern landfills work (which are regulated by heaps of government rules (and if we can’t trust government to save Gaia, who can we?)). As this elementary-level video explains, modern waste management involves a range of methods that keep the stinky trash from polluting the local air and water (and in cases of real pollution, that’s what John Travolta, Matt Damon, and Julia Roberts are for). Oh, waste facilities are also mini power plants, recycling the trash to useful ends, i.e., making “clean energy.”

And what are the alternatives to polystyrene as an option? Well, we can shell out 47% more in energy for production and create 148% more solid waste by going with coffee cups with cardboard sleeves. In the House cafeteria, you used to have one style of cup – polystyrene of 8, 12, 16, 24 oz – with plastic lids. Now we add another component – the sleeve – and a cup that takes more energy to make.

But we don’t want to have partisan battle, so House Republicans have caved on their designation of polystyrene as a superior choice for the cafeterias. In this surrender they give in to anti-science bigotry while betraying their inner-nanny. Why couldn’t these capitalist pigs conceive of a free-market solution? (Perhaps the answer to that questions lies in the premise…)

To close, I propose we have a competition – bring in polystyrene and corn-made/compostable cups and containers, set them up side-by-side, and see what consumers choose. If more people’s guilty consciences (after decades of enviro-indoctrination) and uninformed opinions force them to choose plasticy corn-ware, then so be it. But for those of us with clear-eyes and full hearts about our consumption practices who want a sturdy, lightweight, reliable cup that won’t burn our hand – give us polystyrene as an option.


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